Essex: Twitter best way to engage, says leader of Essex County Council


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The leader of Essex County Council has rejected calls for the public to be able to ask questions at council meetings, saying social media is the now the best way for people to communicate with councillors.

The comments from councillor David Finch come after newly-elected Green county councillor James Abbott from Witham raised the issue at a meeting of the full council earlier this week.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Abbott said: “It is a basic principle of democracy that residents should be allowed to ask questions of their elected representatives and for answers to be given at meetings, where important decisions are being made.”

Mr Abbott said a typical arrangement is that members of the public give the council prior notification they intend to ask a question and that each person is given a three-minute slot to do so.

He said he will be writing to the council with an official request that public questions be considered. Mr Abbott added: “It is simply unacceptable that a major authority such as Essex County Council, with a gross budget in excess of £2billion, does not allow the public to ask questions at most of its meetings.”

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But Mr Finch feels public questions are not the most effective way interacting with the public.

He said: “If you do the maths – ten people asking questions at each of the five full council meetings we hold each year means only 50 people can ask a question each year. From a population of 1.4million, that is not many people.

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“Social media – be it Twitter or Facebook – offers a greater opportunity for people to engage with councillors.”

He added that he has encouraged members of his cabinet to go on more local radio phone-ins to improve engagement.

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